A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sad story of two teenage sisters killed in a car crash caused by an Illinois State Trooper who was driving at 126 mph in response to an emergency call. Since then, the family of the sisters, Jessica and Kelli Uhl, ages 18 and 13 respectively when they died, has asked for $46 million in a civil lawsuit against the state of Illinois. The Uhl family expressed frustration at the state trooper’s insistence that he was not responsible for the girls’ deaths, even though he pled guilty to reckless homicide charges and received a relatively light sentence of probation. As a southern Illinois car wreck attorney, I wish the Uhl family well in making the state take responsibility for its employee’s behavior.
According to the Bellville News-Democrat, the state of Illinois has not accepted liability for the accident that led to the Uhl sisters’ deaths. However, the state has admitted that State Trooper Matt Mitchell was acting in his role as a state employee at the time of the crash, rendering the state liable for damages in the event of a judgment for the Uhl family. The state’s lawyers argue that even though evidence shows that Mitchell was driving 126 mph, and was distracted moments before the crash by his patrol car’s dashboard computer and a cell phone call to his girlfriend, the accident was actually caused by a white car that pulled out in front of Mitchell. That, the state’s lawyers said, is why Mitchell’s car went off the highway, crossed the median, and slammed into the Uhl sisters’ Mazda.
As a St. Louis car crash lawyer, it’s obvious to me that this argument is trying to sidestep an important point. By driving at 126 mph and not devoting full attention to the road at that excessive speed, Mitchell was already driving negligently. At that speed and with those distractions, it’s very likely that he would have been unable to respond to obstacles or sudden changes in conditions on the road. If there was a white car that moved into Mitchell’s lane, that driver should have stayed out of the way of a police car responding to an emergency. But state troopers also have a responsibility to drive safely and be prepared for unexpected conditions, including members of the public who may get in their way. The driver of the white car is not responsible for Mitchell’s bad choice to drive distractedly at an excessive speed.
There are other factors suggesting that the state should be held liable here as well. One is that other emergency personnel had already arrived at the scene of the call to which Mitchell was responding, making his rate of speed even more unnecessary and dangerous. Another is that according to a University of Utah study, using a cell phone slows a driver’s response time as much as being legally drunk (with a blood-alcohol count of 0.08%) does. As a Missouri car accident attorney, I have a hard time imagining anyone making the case that a drunk driver going 126 mph wouldn’t be responsible for injuries he or she caused, even if another car unexpectedly moved in front of him or her.
In both Illinois and Missouri, the law allows victims and their families to recover compensation for harm they have suffered from a driver who caused a serious accident. Carey, Danis & Lowe represents victims of these types of accidents and their families who are seeking to hold at-fault drivers legally and financially responsible for their accidents. In many cases, our clients have suffered serious financial strain because of high medical or funeral bills and loss of an income, in addition to their pain and grief. In a lawsuit, victims can recover these costs and more, including compensation for past and future lost income and a lifetime of medical costs. They may also recover compensation for the permanent loss of a loved one or a permanent disability, physical pain, emotional suffering and lost quality of life. Most importantly, they can seek justice from people whose negligence changed their lives forever.
If you or a loved one have been hurt by someone else’s negligence, please call our firm to learn about your rights and how you can seek justice. You can call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400, or send us a message online.